by Jane Pulaski

roger smith headshot

Roger Smith, Director, Weatherization Training Center at Pulaski Technical College (no relation to the author), found his way to PTC via his construction business.  After graduating from the University of Arkansas with a degree in business, Smith spent the next seven years renovating and remodeling homes in historic districts of Little Rock.  Roger joined PTC in May 2010 to develop its Weatherization Training Center.

In just two years, PTC’s Retrofit Installer Program became an  IREC accredited Training Program, becoming the third WTC in the country to receive accreditation.

Roger is a big believer in credentials; he’s got a few of them: Building Performance Institute Building Analyst; Environmental Protection Agency Lead Renovate Right Paint Certificate and Instructor; National Center for Healthy Housing Healthy Homes Practitioner Instructor. He’s a former licensed residential builder.  “Wish I had more,” he says.

The PTC staff has served on national technical panels and presented at national conferences. PTC has served more than 500 students, and is an approved testing center for the new National Certifications for Home Energy Professionals.  Roger still teaches, but made time to talk with us about why PTC pursued the IREC ISPQ credential. Here’s our conversation.

IREC: Roger, what drew you to PTC?  

RS:  I went back and forth from construction to sales for several years.  The Weatherization Program Director position at PTC opened up during the economic downturn, and it seemed like a good fit for my beliefs and skill set.  The draw to PTC?  It’s the fourth largest college in Arkansas and THE largest two-year college in Arkansas, with a rich history in workforce development.  AndI always liked training adults in my other occupations.

IREC:  Sounds like perfect timing.  You’re obviously a big believer in credentials—you’ve got a few of your own. Was it a no-brainer to go for the IREC Credential?

RS:   As part of our original grant agreement with the Arkansas Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), we had agreed to provide training that would lead to a recognizable national credential.  BPI, at the time was the national standard, but they did not offer a credential that reflected the in-depth training we were providing.  When the DOE selected IREC to provide accreditation services for the training centers, we saw this as a path toward the credential we sought.

IREC:  But how did you decide on which classes to apply for the IREC credential?  

RS:  That was easy.  DOE was subsidizing the accreditation process so we took full advantage and chose to go for all accredited programs.  We had a stable of eight classes that we had developed, based on the building block theory and core competencies matrix that DOE had provided at that time, and we just had to align the classes to meet the course of study requirements for each JTA.  That took a LOT of work.

IREC:  No kidding.  I see that one of your accredited courses is for mobile homes.  Why mobile homes? 

RS:  Roughly 30% of the homes weatherized in this country are mobile homes.  They present their own peculiarities to the auditing and weatherization process.  If this was truly going to be a credential that identified the installer as a weatherization professional, then it had to encompass those competencies as well.

IREC:  Are the credentialed classes the most popular? 

RS:  In our particular case they are, but simply because the bulk of our training has evolved around the WAP workforce and because DOE is pushing these credentials right now. The challenge, as Arkansas rebids its network of providers, is to identify the training needs of those individuals who already possess some other national credential and ensure that we offer them every possible resource they will need to be successful at obtaining the NREL credentials.

IREC:  Makes perfect sense.  PTC understands the value of credentials for its programs and instructors.  Are PTC graduates finding work in this field?  

RS:  We are receiving calls weekly from employers looking to fill job vacancies.

IREC:  That’s encouraging, particularly since the job market has been slow to recover.  On the flip side, what’s been a challenge to this work? 

RS:  Keeping up with the growing pains of this industry.  Because of the national spotlight and the large investment, things have happened really fast.  Sometimes that has made for a lot of confusion as well as the need to change direction in mid-stream.  The uncertainty of future funding has created an atmosphere that has made it difficult to promote our trainings and to convince prospective candidates that they need this training and that it will lead to future employment.

IREC:  It makes it especially difficult to build and grow a market with inconsistency in funding and policies. Just look at the wind industry and the instability of the Production Tax Credit (PTC) over the past several years. Any surprises along the way?

RS:  I’m not sure ‘surprise’ is the word I would use, but it has been interesting to be a part of an emerging industry.  Some industries, maybe the real estate business, have been around a long time and have established credentials and procedures that pretty much all realtors have and have to follow.  It’s been interesting, and challenging, to watch the process evolve in this industry.  It’s not as simple as one might think to create something like a market, and the support mechanism on a national scale. I think the players involved have done a remarkable job in a short amount of time.

IREC: I know you’re a proponent of credentials.  Do you think people understand the value of credentials?

RS:  I think that as the existing personnel credentials are molded into the new credential offered at accredited training centers, the value of the new credential will be realized.  BPI BA is a desirable credential, but as we crosswalk that credential with the new NREL Energy Auditor credential and we give credence to the BA being a stepping stone to the EA credential, then you will see the public take note and come to appreciate the EA credential more.  It would help if we could get government programs and utility programs to require the EA credential.

IREC:  It seems that credentialing programs will continue to evolve as the value and awareness of credentials become more apparent.  What’s on your to-do list?  Are you looking at accrediting other courses? What about your trainers? Are you encouraging them to become certified?

RS: Yes.  We are working on getting our trainers certified as Master Trainers and we are well into the process of achieving accreditation for our Crew Leader, Energy Auditor and Quality Control (QC) Inspector training programs.  We are diversifying our training offerings and looking at more flexible scheduling to accommodate our customers.  We have many projects on the boards, but our priority has been and continues to be supporting the Weatherization Assistance Program while looking to develop a sustainable business model.

IREC:  I suspect PTC is well on the way to making that goal a reality.  Any words of wisdom you’d care to share with those who are thinking about pursuing accreditation?

RS:  I believe credentialing makes for a stronger organization which certainly is a plus when marketing your offerings.  I would suggest to those contemplating the accreditation path to look at what resources are already available and not  reinvent the wheel.

IREC:  Couldn’t agree more.  Thanks so much, Roger, for making time to talk about PTCs experience with the IREC ISPQ credential.  And keep up the exemplary work.     

For more information about PTCs programs, visit the program page on its website or contact Roger directly at [email protected].